(Orig. pub. 1/23/20)
A friend sent me a story last week about a Bridgeport, CT woman in her thirties who recently lit up a quarter-stick of dynamite. Allegedly, she was rummaging in her basement for alternative lighting during a power outage and mistook the explosive for a candle.
The ensuing explosion blew off several of the woman’s fingers. Tragic.
Tempting though it is to compare the poor soul to Wily Coyote or some other intellectually compromised character, it’s pretty evident that many people aren’t proactive about stocking emergency provisions, much less labeling them.
Imagine living out your life without fingers because the lights went out and you were in a blind panic.
Sparking tragic memories. The story reminded me of another victim of an explosion, although this one was the farthest thing, intellectually at least, from Wily Coyote.
On May 31, 2015, Gerald (“Jerry”) Stomski finally succumbed to burns he sustained after an explosion occurred inside his garage in March of the same year. The explosive in this case was the gasoline in Stomski’s lawn mower.
Why should this be of interest to Sandy Hook doubters? Because Stomski had quite a lot to say about Connecticut’s school security systems.
Accidental? A resident of Hampstead, NC at the time of the explosion, Stomski was said to have been working on his lawn mower with the garage door closed. The explosion was blamed on a “gas leak” by Pender County Emergency Director Tom Collins.
From the linked article above: “Collins said investigators are unsure what sparked the explosion, but believe it was accidental. He said someone passing by saw the smoke, then Stomski lying in the drive way.”
Gasoline is notoriously flammable. (Not the liquid; the vapor.) When mixed with air it will burn at normal working temperatures–actually, temperatures as low as -40 F–but only if there’s an ignition source, which could be as minimal as lighting a match.
Working with gasoline in closed quarters is dangerous because vapors can build up instead of dissipating, increasing the chance of an explosion if an ignition source is nearby.
And there’s another factor: If a gas leak occurs, vapors that spread beyond the spill can be ignited from a distance even from hundreds of feet away and “flash back” to their source. In this case, a lawn mower or gasoline can. Result: Big explosion.
Without a spark or flame, of course, gasoline won’t burn or explode unless the temperature is around 533 K (499.73 F). (This is known as “auto-ignition temperature.”) Unless Stomski was working inside an oven, obviously that degree of heat isn’t what caused the explosion.
Emergency Director Tom Collins wouldn’t even wager a guess as to what ignited the flames. But, whatever it was, working in closed quarters didn’t improve Stomski’s chances.
Surely Stomski knew better. He was by no means challenged intellectually. He held a degree in plant and soil science from UMass; ran a successful landscaping business in Woodbury, CT; served as the town’s “Tree Warden”; and eventually became its First Selectman. The obituary portrays Stomski as a kindly Johnny Appleseed figure, jovially pruning, watering and inspiring children to plant trees.
More relevant to this article, we are given only hints in Stomski’s obituary of his interesting avocations: as an “inventor” and a “security expert.”
Records show that between the years 2001 and 2004, Stomski applied for at least four U.S. patents. See:
Transportable security portal for screening potential terrorits [sic];
Mobile vehicle screening;
Aircraft security system;
Automated security chambers for queues.
It’s obvious from the invention descriptions that Stomski was preoccupied with airport security technology, sparked at least in part by the September 11th “terrorist hijackings.” And this is borne out by the fact that he owned an LLC known as Advanced Automated Security Systems, last registered on Sept. 9, 2003. The location of the LLC had the same address as Stomski’s GS Plant Landscape Enterprises.
A security expert who once spoke his mind. In a Hartford Courant article dated January 17, 2013–about one month after the Sandy Hook incident–Stomski’s friendship with fellow Woodbury resident Dawn Hochsprung emerges as another factor in his biography, and perhaps his untimely demise. (Hochsprung was the principal of Sandy Hook Elementary during the time of the 12-14-12 incident, allegedly one of the victims.)
From the article: “He [Stomski] said he believes that airport security technology can be applied to schools.”
There follows a discussion of Stomski’s plans as a school security activist: “He is now hoping to play a role in legislative efforts to improve school safety. Gov. Dannel P. Malloy has formed a committee to make recommendations and legislators are expecting multiple bills to be proposed.
“Stomski said he hopes to address legislators if hearings are held and that he is determined to carry on Hochsprung’s motto of ‘not on my watch.’
“‘I hope we are not going to knee jerk our reaction,’ Stomski said. ‘There is not one thing that will solve this issue.’
“Stomski said part of the problem is that schools mostly rely on administrators, teachers or other support personnel to develop plans for their schools when they should be relying on security professionals.
“‘The details of security have to go to people in the field. Each school in each town is uniquely different in its security needs. There are different access points, different designs particularly with older schools,’ Stomski said.”
The article goes on to describe some of Stomski’s ideas about security measures, such as real-time video streaming “to police headquarters from school parking lots” and beefing up school vestibules with bullet-proof glass.
An undated letter from Stomski to the Connecticut School Safety Committee reveals even more about Stomski’s work with various departments of the U.S. Government (among them, Homeland Security) as well as his association with the hapless Hochsprung. The letter describes how Stomski met with her in 2009 while she was still acting principal of Mitchell Elementary School (Woodbury):
“I worked with Dawn Hochsprung on writing a successful grant and assisted her with the proper application of these security controls for her school. Additionally, Dawn Hochsprung and I formed a relationship where we discussed on numerous occasions, what would need to be done should a shooter breach the school security, forcibly entering the school, and open firing once entered.”
The letter goes on to laud Hochsprung for her actions on 12-14-12 while blaming “the lack of necessary safety precautions and access control measures at that [Sandy Hook Elementary] School …”
Stomski ends the letter with a recommendation that each Connecticut school be profiled individually for particulars like “camera imaging.” One has to wonder what the School Safety Committee thought about Stomski’s full-blown commitment. If set loose, would he drill down into regions beyond Woodbury, profiling the driveways, halls, brick walls, windows and cameras of Newtown and even, say, Monroe’s Chalk Hill Middle School?
Trouble followed. Perhaps, in his zeal, Stomski asked one too many questions about why, in an era of public video surveillance, there was no security footage of Adam Lanza shattering his way into the Sandy Hook Elementary building. Or maybe certain people didn’t like Stomski’s attitude, which could be “belligerent.”
In any case less than one month after the Hartford Courant interview, Stomski was in trouble, facing sexual harassment charges after a town resident complained, claiming that she had been offended by Stomski calling her “attractive.” The complaint by Linda Zukauskas was filed with the Connecticut Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities.
The offending word was actually spoken the year before (!), at a May 2012 town meeting. So the timing of the harassment charge is worthy of note. One Litchfield County Times article framed it as “gender bias,” with the incident described from Zukauskas’s perspective: “‘Harassment’ is a very subjective thing,’ she [Zukauskas] said. ‘It wasn’t sexual in a “Hey baby c’mon” kind of way, it was sexual in a way that I’m a woman,’ she argues.”
Talk about volatile and vindictive. Even the Boston Globe filed a story on it, perhaps only as click bait.
From the Boston Globe article: “Stomski said he uses the word attractive all the time and did not mean it in a sexual way.”
That same year (2013), Stomski would defeat his Republican challenger to become his party’s nominee for First Selectman in November. But he would ultimately lose his First Selectman position and, in 2014, left Woodbury for greener pastures in Hampstead, NC.
A year later, Stomski had a critical safety issue of his own–inside his very own garage–an explosive circumstance that sounds, on its surface, improbable.
Out of character. Think about it: Why would someone as knowledgeable as Stomski box himself in with one of the most flammable substances known to garage owners? And what was the ignition source? Playing with matches seems out of the question. Stomski’s tragic end may (or may not) be linked with what he knew about the Sandy Hook event.
Such a connection would certainly be more credible than, say, a story about a woman mistaking a stick of dynamite for a candle. Especially in light of this list of people who, like Stomski, had their own brush with 12-14-12 before falling prey to untimely misfortunes and tragedies.
Even that list is likely not complete, but, hopefully, it will ignite something more illuminating than the explosion that took Jerry Stomski’s life: preferably, critical thinking.
H/t: Anne Berg and Alison Maynard